As marketplaces have shifted into a digital world, more and more patrons of the art world have also begun shopping online. As a fledgling artist, however, how do you begin selling more of your prints? What are some strategies to selling online and through Facebook that can lead to more results for your work?
While these five different strategies will focus primarily on Facebook, they are applicable with modification to selling your prints in other online markets. Some of these strategies can, and should, also influence your work selling prints in real life.
So, what exactly are these strategies? Here’s a fast breakdown before we get into the list:
Never undervalue your work
Lots of photographers are told never to shoot for free, never to work for free, etc. When it comes to prints, however, you need to charge something. Sadly, newer photographers that are unaware of the art world rarely understand that by selling their prints close to cost, they are severely undermining both themselves as a photographer and their business in selling prints.
Let’s say you create a print to sell. The print costs you $80 from your lab, your own printer, or wherever. Selling that print at $120 shipped will mean that, if you are taking proper shipping measures, you might end up making $20. If your goal is to sell $1,000 worth of prints, you’re going to have to sell that print 50 times over. On the other hand, let’s say that you price that print at $200 + shipping. At that point, you are now profiting $120 per print, meaning that for just 9 prints you’ve made more income than the previous 50 you sold.
We’ll also touch on this later, but this provides you some leeway when it comes to other strategies you should incorporate.
Now, there is another reason to do this besides just having to sell fewer prints. Firstly, it adds more value to your future work. If you are already selling prints at $200, which is a fairly low price, when you increase that price to $500, or when you go to a gallery, you have shown that people are willing to spend that much on your work already. This creates more of a foundation for you and makes you want to produce better prints as you continue your work. Selling cheap prints has the opposite effect. By selling your work at such low prices, you are shooting yourself in the foot by both lowering your personal worth in your artwork, and lowering the image of worth in your artwork for clients.
This is more true for prints that have a wider audience - if you are selling prints of senior portraits, family events, or something in that vein directly to clients these changes. If that is the case, you want to make sure that you are charging around the same way you are for the rest of the time you dedicate to them. Let’s say a client wants a 20 by 30 inch print of a photo you took during a session. That print is going to cost you a certain amount from your lab, let’s say $60, and then you may spend another $200 having it professionally framed and matted. At this point, you could just sell it to the client for $260 + tax, but then you’re losing money. That money you’re losing is in the time you dedicated to getting that print right, having a good relationship with your printer, having the print framed, driving the print around, and delivering it to the client. If you’re going through this process, and it takes several hours, charge for some amount of that time you have dedicated to that client, as part of the cost of the print, because that is exactly what it is!
Created Limited Prints (when it makes sense)
Scarcity is one of the drivers of price in the art world. Photographs are strange because, in the age of digital photography, you could print hundreds or thousands of images from one file. This was also true with traditional printing processes, but if you cut up the film, it was no longer true. On the other hand, saying you deleted a digital file just doesn’t have the same effect - even if it did, there was no telling how many backups you may have forgotten about.
Instead, much of the photographic art world relies on honesty. If you are going to create a limited run of prints, let’s say a run of 20 prints, then create those twenty, and one or two proofs. (Proofs are personal prints that the artist keeps and does whatever they want to with. These do not affect the print run, but it is generally understood that an artist creates a far more limited amount of proofs than prints, even in a very limited print run).
If your prints are something that you want to sell in incredibly low volume, or the market dictates that that is how they should be sold, then creating limited print runs is what you should do. There are several conditions that make this happen. Firstly, large and high-quality prints that are to be sold at galleries or high-end art fairs. At these locations, limited-run prints will sell more easily and better, because there is value in a customer knowing that only 5, 10, 20, etc. prints of a certain photograph exist. The second is prints that are expensive enough and target a specific, wealthy, collector-type demographic. These prints need to be more expensive because, in that market, they will generally be easier to sell at a higher cost. That sounds strange, but if you’re a newer artist, possible customers may ignore your work because of lower prices. Additionally, if you want your art to be a part of the higher-end art world, selling it at a higher price will more likely begin the relationships required for that to happen for you.
Additionally, selling numbered prints on Facebook is great marketing. Firstly, this means that your advertising is already being built for you - your advertising copy can read the artwork’s name, the number, and the price. Secondly, people love having things that are numbered because it adds more to the same feeling of realism that photographic prints are already affording customers. Make sure that you are signing and numbering your prints correctly. Keeping a good record of what editions of prints you have sold, and where they have ended up, in a portfolio fashion, is a great supplement if applying to a gallery or other art exhibition.
Lastly, there are of course many circumstances in which limited print runs aren’t necessary, and may be redundant or even a poor choice. Prints made for clients from specific photographs, for example. Or smaller prints that you could easily sell large volumes of. The reasoning here is that sometimes it makes more sense not to limit a print because it has such a large appeal that you could sell cheaper, non-limited prints en masse. If you are going to be selling several hundred copies of a print, you don’t need to go through the effort of limiting the print run and increasing the price, as you can reach the market of people that just love that print and want it and would otherwise be unable to afford it if it was going to be in a limited 10 of the set.
Package your work professionally
I don’t mean ship it in a nice box. Yes, ship well, and take the right measures to ship your artwork, but packaging here means much more than that. You’re often not just selling a print, and generally, you shouldn’t be.
A print sold as a final product can be sold for a much higher price than a print that is being sold loose. A loose print in the sea of different Facebook artists' pages makes it more work for your customers, as they now have to frame, mat, and go through all that work. Additionally, a framed print will generally be safer in shipping, although the shipping price will be greater.
Your unpackaged product is a photograph. The first step is to bring it to a lab you trust - if you don’t have a current lab, this is the time in which you start building an opportunity with a printer. If you don’t have access to a local lab, there are online alternatives, but you may want to order samples from them to see what the quality is like.
Now you have a loose print. The next step is going to a framer, learning of the different materials, what they cost, and what the production time frame is like. Something I highly suggest is, once you have done this process several times especially, is being able to sell prints before you frame them, at the price of a framed print, offering the buyer the options of different frames. This allows buyers to match their frames and decor in the space in which they wish to display your artwork, but it also makes it so that your business can be much more liquid. Just make sure that if you are doing this drop-shipping esque fashion of selling pre-framing or even pre-printing, you are transparent about the amount of time it may take your finalized artwork to reach the buyer.
This packaging, however much work it might seem, can really push your prints forward. Again, this depends on the audience to which you are selling the prints, but for higher-end prints, adding framing and great quality prints, and creating a margin on those processes for yourself, can lead to more income for your business.
Visual Interest and Context for your art
Something that many new art sellers and businesses fail at is the business side. Many creative people aren’t as familiar with business as they are with the art they love to create. This can be because of a lack of passion, lack of experience, or for whatever reason. Either way, there are some things you need to make sure that you are doing when advertising and selling your work on Facebook, or any other online marketplace.
Firstly, stimulating visual interest is very important. If you are paying for content to be promoted on Facebook, especially, you want to make sure that your advertising grasps the viewer’s attention. Have easy to read, simple, and short copy alongside beautiful photos of the prints of the images. Make sure that the majority of people that can see the advertisement both love the image that is printed, and can see it being placed within their own home.
This means that you need to use your most popular photographs to advertise. Notice how I didn’t say best - use the photographs that you have seen other people drawn to the most, even if they are not your personal favorites. This can draw people into looking through the different printed works which you are selling, and allow you to reach more people.
Secondly, let’s talk about copy and context a little. Above, we talked about the physical packaging of your print, from the original picture to a final product. The digital packaging that we are talking about now includes the copy that is associated with your work online, especially where you are trying to sell it. Providing context about your images is very important. If you are selling images of landscapes, don’t name the artwork “Horizon”, “Sunrise”, or some vague and boring term. Use a title that both reflects the work and the emotion of the work, and spend time crafting a paragraph or so of text that explains some of the details and thoughts behind the image. In a sense, answer the questions that someone might ask you about the print if you were at a fair and they were an interested buyer.
Promoting your work can take a lot of time and effort, but it is definitely one of the most proven ways of selling more. Advertise your Facebook page through your friends, and have people you work with share it in exchange for you sharing theirs. Support others in the art world and they will generally support you back. Create a network of people that can lead to a wider audience, as more eyes on your work lead to more chances at selling another print.
Additionally, always think about running promotions. In the first strategy in this guide, I explained about creating some leeway in your margins. This leeway allows you to create sales much more easily. For example, let’s say that it is near Valentine's day, and you sell some sort of fine art imagery. A 25% off sale can lead to a lot more people wanting to buy - sales and the power of a good deal are proven strategies for increasing revenue.
On the other hand, try to initially stay away from friend and family discounts, and the act of giving your work to your family for free. Instead, sell some artwork first. After selling prints, and proving their value, you can give some away as presents or to family. Those people know that these pieces of art have commercial success, and thus some form of value attributed to them. This will lead to them telling others about your work, and them feeling as if the gift is much more valuable. Additionally, this hopefully means that you aren’t out of money from giving away your first prints for free.
Lastly, selling prints can take time, and that is OK. If prints aren’t selling, you don’t need to sell them for next to nothing, and you shouldn’t ever sell them below cost if you don’t have to. Instead, put them away, and bring them back for a “limited stock”, or “cleaning out storage” sale down the line, when you may need the space for future prints. As your audience grows, more people will want some of the prints that you no longer sell, as they have an emotional connection to your work, either in the form of nostalgia for those that have been there for a long time, or the desire to own and see your earlier art.